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One of Raisi's entourage survived helicopter hard landing, though just for hours

By Mike Gu in Hong Kong | | Updated: 2024-05-22 13:07
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A view of the wreckage of Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi's helicopter at the crash site on a mountain in Varzaghan area, northwestern Iran, May 20, 2024. [Photo/Xinhua]

At least one of the entourage of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi lived for some time after their helicopter's hard landing and the flight had been generally okay for less than one hour before it disappeared quickly.

Even after the accident deep in the mountains, Iran's presidential chief of staff succeeded in contacting one of the victims, the Friday prayer who likely succumbed hours later, according to Iranian news agencies.

In his recount during an interview with the Iranian state TV, the official Gholamhossein Esmaili said the helicopters were trying to avoid a nearby cloud before the tragedy. He was on board one of the three helicopters of Raisi's delegation returning from the inauguration of Qiz-Qalasi Dam, a joint Iran-Azerbaijan project.

Esmaili said the helicopters had taken off at around 1:00 pm local time on May 19 when the weather condition was normal, reported Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency, or IRNA

After 45 minutes into the flight, the pilot of the president's helicopter who was in charge of the convoy, ordered other helicopters to increase altitude to avoid nearby clouds, Esmaili said.  Below them was the Dizmar forest, nestled between the cities of Varzaqan and Jolfa in East Azarbaijan Province.

However, "after 30 seconds of flying over the clouds, our pilot noticed that the helicopter in the middle had disappeared," he said.

His pilot began circling and returning to search for the president's helicopter, only to find their views handicapped by poor weather conditions, reported Mehr News Agency of Iran. 

Several attempts to contact the president's helicopter through radio devices proved to no avail, and while it was unable to decrease altitude because of the clouds, the two helicopters continued the flight and landed at a nearby copper mine. 

Sadly, neither Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian nor head of the president's guard unit responded to repeated calls afterwards, Esmaili told the media. 

Suddenly, the voice of Tabriz Friday prayer leader Seyyed Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, came in when the pilots of the two other helicopters tried to contact Captain Seyed Taher Mostafavi, who was in charge of the president's helicopter.

The prayer leader, who managed to take the call, was apparently not in a good situation but revealed the copter had gone down into a valley, Easmaili added.

In a hurry, Esmaili himself made a second contact with Ali Ale-Hashem and received the same answers about the situation. 

Yet heavy fog and rains prevented the rescuers to locate the exact spot immediately, according to Mehr News Agency.

"When we found the location of the accident, the conditions of the bodies indicated that President Raisi and other companions had died instantly but Ale-Hashem had been martyred after hours," Esmaili said.

The body of Ale-Hashem was the only one found in a better physical condition among all nine victims, the head of Iran's Crisis Management Agency, Mohammad-Hassan Nami, told International Metalworking News for Asia (IMNA).

Others martyred in the crash included East Azarbaijan Governor Malek Rahmati, a member of the president's bodyguard team Mahdi Mousavi, the helicopter's co-pilot Mohsen Daryanosh, and crew, according to a Tehran Times report.

The probe into the crash launched by the Iranian authorities go on.

The bodies of Raisi, Ale-Hashem along with others are now laid in Teheran for funeral ceremonies. Since the early hours of Wednesday morning, local people poured into the streets of Teheran to say the last farewell to their beloved ones. 

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei is scheduled to do the prayers in a ceremony in the University of Teheran early Wednesday.

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